The Emergence of Evangelical Discipleship: Learning to Walk with Jesus - page 4


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From the Spring 2017 issue of Knowing & Doing:  

The Emergence of Evangelical Discipleship:
Learning to Walk with Jesus

by Tom Schwanda, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Christian Formation
and Ministry at Wheaton College

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  This narrative shape of the Christian life invites us to consider our own pilgrimage and maturity in Christ.

  New Life in Christ:13 Early evangelicals took sin seriously and understood its disastrous effects in splintering relationships with both God and humanity. The vivid language that described sin included worm of dust, lost, blind, wretched, pitiful, and starving. Evangelicals recognized that sin created doubt, fear, and numerous expressions of spiritual turmoil. Sin also could convince individuals that they could never escape this prison because they were unworthy. Fortunately these eighteenth-century believers were also cognizant of God’s grace and the promise of new life in Christ. Regardless of a person’s experience, God was rich in mercy and declared there was a better way of living. God’s outstretched arms of welcome were always extended with the invitation to come and be healed, restored, and forgiven. This was possible because Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, shed His blood on the cross to save all those who would believe and follow Him (John 1:29). For early evangelicals, this was truly “amazing grace” that redeemed and created assurance of peace and comfort to troubled souls. The proper response to Jesus’ invitation was sincere repentance that exchanged one’s old life for a life that through self-denial sought to follow Jesus daily. The result of being spiritually awakened challenged all who practiced a formalistic or “Pharisee-like faith,” especially ministers who had not experienced the spiritual rebirth. Without the new birth no one could be a disciple of Jesus Christ!

  The Holy Spirit: The next three categories examine the means of growing in Christ. Early evangelicals affirmed the reality of the Trinity and recognized the divinity of the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ promise of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in every believer’s life was foundational. Evangelicals maintained that this gift was for every age and not just for the first century, a stance that resulted in their opponents accusing them of “enthusiasm.” But, while evangelicals emphasized the importance of being inspired by God to live a vital spiritual life, they distanced themselves from the excesses of spiritual excitement and fanaticism. This lived experience of faith was named experimental or heart religion and sought the integration of head and heart. The ministry of the Holy Spirit was and is varied, and eighteenth-century evangelical texts on this topic examine sanctification, the dynamic interaction of Scripture and Spirit in the inspiration of and proper use of the Bible, perseverance throughout life’s trials of affliction, sorrow, and doubt, and guidance to attain the eternal triumph and victory over sin. Writers stressed growing in holiness and conformity to the revealed will of God, with the resulting emphasis upon sorrow for sin and holy affections that would inspire deeper sanctification. In times of affliction and temptation, believers were counseled to stand firm and accept their suffering for Christ. Evangelicals were continually reminded to thirst for the Holy Spirit and to seek these manifestations of the Spirit’s presence and power in their daily lives.


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